How to do Oahu, HI in a week

Planning a trip can be stressful.  We hope to create a blog that will save you time, money, and stress. Kay and I visited Oahu for 7 days, 6 nights. We had an idea of what we would do when we got there, but our plans were flexible and changed. We ended up planning what we would do the night before, which can be hectic. So, to save you the trouble and decrease stress, here’s a list of what we ended up doing, and in order of what we loved best! In parentheses are locations of the sites, so that you can order them by which part of Oahu you’ll be visiting. Comment below if you have any questions, and if you go to any of these, let us know how you like them!  Also, our trip is ideal for those with a budget because it was filled with mostly free outdoor adventures 😄 As a recently graduated grad student and a current grad student, we know frugality can go a long way!

Renting a car is a necessity here.   We drove a lot and luckily gas was relatively cheap.  We heard taxis can be super expensive ($30 just to go to airport for 15 minutes drive, to give you an idea).  If you need a cab, use Uber or Lyft.  We got a good deal from and found Advantage car rental: $175 for 6 nights including taxes, located at the HNL airport. Another great car rental website is – they search a bunch of websites to find you the cheapest price, AND they continue tracking rental changes AND will re-book you automatically if they find you a better deal!
Most of the restaurants in Oahu have their own small parking lots and we didn’t have a problem getting a spot during our trip.

To give you an overview: Oahu is the name of the whole island.  Honolulu is the capital city of Hawaii located in Oahu.  Waikiki is one of the millions of beaches located in Honolulu city.  It is also the location where 90% + of the tourists stay.  Here, you will find a lot of the popular restaurants, including night life and cool hikes such as Diamond Head, Tantalus drive.  You can also take sunset cruises that are a few blocks walk away from your hotel.  Of course, it is also the priciest lodging due to its popular location.  We stayed at Sheraton Princess in Waikiki for the first 5 nights and then our last night at Airbnb.   If we had to do it over again, we would only stay at Waikiki for 2-3 nights, then spend the other nights at other parts of the island: (for ex: 1-2 nights at North Shore, and 1 night at Kailua).  Our hotel included free parking (other hotels charge for $25/24 hours), beach chair/towel rentals, and live music & hula dancing nightly.  So before you book a room, ask for what the parking cost will be.  I heard some hotels charge upwards of $40/night.  If you are staying at a hotel, we recommend renting out hotel beach chairs in the morning if you’re planning to go to the beach that day and return it that night.

View from our corner room


I would get a big tourist map and mark all the places (hikes, restaurants, attractions) you want to check out during your vacation.  That way, you have a visual of what can be done around the same area and save the gas and time driving back and forth.  Not to mention, there can be a ton of traffic driving in and out of Waikiki.  Even a 3-4 mile drive around the city took us 20ish minutes.  Once you are outside the city, traffic tends to be much better.

Our favorite excursions

  1. Sunset catamaran cruise (Waikiki) – we found a Groupon deal for 2 for $60 (20% off with some promotion they were having). It was really nice because the night we went, there were only 5 of us passengers, and 3 crew members – so we pretty much had the whole catamaran to ourselves! We got to see some whales, and the sunset on the way back setting over Diamond Head was gorgeous. Very romantic. Drinks were $5 (got some Mai Tais). I’ve heard they also have other catamarans that are more for meeting people and drinking, whatever floats your boat (pun intended)!
  2. Kayaking to Moku Nui Island (Kailua / Lanikai) – we went to Windward WaterSports and they hooked it up! You’ll need a car in order to get from Windward WaterSports to the beach. The guy explained to us how to get in/out of the kayak properly, how to row, how the wind and currents were for the day, and how to get to the island, making sure to avoid the reef! We got a double kayak, and it comes with seats with backrest so you’re resting comfortably as you paddle. They can rent you dry bag (highly recommended) and snorkel gear for $5 extra (you probably won’t have enough time to snorkel though). Once you’re out in your kayak, you do have to time the waves correctly when you’re kayaking to Moku Nui, as there are some waves out there! Quick tip: Make sure you’re perpendicular to the wave when you’re going into or behind it, because if not, you’ll capsize (as we did)! No worries if you capsize though, you have life vests on. A friendly surfer actually helped us flip the kayak over and get us back into the kayak. Mahalo! It was such a thrill to get through the waves – almost like surfing but in a kayak. Check out below to see what to do on Moku Nui Island!


  3. We are aware of the “Go Oahu” cards but since we weren’t planning on going to Polynesian Cultural Center, we didn’t get it. It takes most of the day to check out PCC, and we wanted to spend our time being outdoors!
  4. Mopeds: since we rented a car, we decided not to ride the mopeds.  One friend who works at the ER told us that mopeds were bad idea after seeing so many patients coming in with moped related accidents.  But if you decide to try it anyways, take caution and be safe!

Top Hikes / Places with amazing views

  1. Stairway to Heaven aka Haiku Stairs – This was MY FAVORITE HIKE EVER!!! Note: You do need to be a bit of a daredevil / adventurous for this one, since it is illegal! There are 3,922 very steep steps to the top, and if you’re deathly afraid of heights, this is not for you! They were built during WWII for communications by the Navy. Although it’s scary at times with mangled stair flights and wobbly/shaky steps, the view is so worth it. We will have detailed directions of how to find the stairs in another post!
    • Rating: 5/5 stars
    • Difficulty: Hard
    • Mileage: 4.8 miles RT, very steep
    • Time:
      • Ascent: It takes about 45 minutes to get from the entrance to the hike.  Then about 1.5 to 2 hours going all the way up to the top.  
      • Descent: 1.5 to 2 hours to the entrance then 30 minutes to get back to your car.
    • Note: The stairs are 18 inches wide, so they’re pretty narrow.
  2. Koko Crater Railway Trail – an old wooden railroad track that leads right up the top of Koko Mountain.
    • Rating:4.5/5
    • Difficulty: Hard
      • There was a portion of steps (15-20 steps) where there are gaps between the rails.  No shame if you need to go on hands and knees 😛
    • Mileage: 1000 steps or about 3 miles RT?
    • Time:  45 minutes up and 45 minutes down. 
  3. Diamond Head Lookout Trail – This was a crowded hike, start early. Lots of switchbacks, but paved. $2 to walk in, $5 per car if you drive in. There’s a truck selling fruit at the beginning. The view up top allows you to see all the way from Koko Head to Wai’anae
    • Rating: 4/5
    • Difficulty: Easy-Mod
    • Mileage: 1.5 miles RT, plus 99 steps if you turn right after the tunnel. If you turn left after the tunnel, you can take the loop trail to the left which is milder and avoids those steps.
    • Time: ~1.5 hours round trip.  
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  4. Kuliouou Ridge Trail – Very forest-y and nature-y (I just made up some words it’s late). Also lots of switchbacks.
    • Difficulty: Mod
    • Mileage: 4.4 miles RT
    • Time: About 3 hours round trip.
  5. Drive to Tantalus Lookout (not a hike, although there is a hike on your way up to the lookout called ʻUalakaʻa Trail)
    • About 15 minutes drive from Waikiki IMG_9070


Souvenirs and basic groceries

  1. Don Quijote – This is like a Japanese Wal-Mart that is worth checking out if you are around the area.  Located 2 blocks down YogurStory if you’re going there for their Ube Pancakes (we talk about this down below!). Lots of cheap souvenirs here.
  2. Longs Drugs – Seems super random, right? But we found a lot of cheap Hawaiian snacks!
  3. Walmart – Come here to grab yourself a Lei necklace, some beer, and macadamia nuts (our favorite is with onion & garlic for that great fresh breath afterwards)!
  4. ABC stores – located all over Waikiki, almost every block 😄



  1. Moku Nui Island – Rent a Kayak from Kailua, then drive 10 minutes to Lanakai: depart with Kayak for about 30 minutes to Moku Nui Island.  Thumbs up!
    • Once on the island, the beach is nice to lay out and watch / listen to the waves. There’s a trail on the right side of the island that will take you to a great tide pool (pictured below). The trail to get there is over sharp rocks, so be sure to wear shoes/sandals, and be careful. Once you get to the tide pool, make sure and watch the waves. They were big the day we went and during large waves, the whole area was flooded as the wave hit the rocks and came up. Exhilarating to watch but I wouldn’t want to be hit by the force of that water.
    • If you go to the left of the island, there’s a trail there that leads to a place where lots of people cliff jump. We didn’t try it, but make sure to read up on when to jump before you go.
    • After the kayak, it’s worth it to drive along the eastern part of the island.  There’s a bunch of scenic view points on the way, including Makapu’u Lookout.
  2. Ala Moana Beach Park –  Locals’ beach in Waikiki with free curb parking. Lots of locals come to play beach volleyball, run, and just enjoy the sun.
    1. Tip: Go to Ala Moana mall and check out some happy hour at the Mai Tai bar or Japanese food at Shirokiya after the Ala Moana beach.
      1. Parking: Free parking structure with plenty of spots.
      2. hours: the mall close at 9pm.
  3. North Shore
    • Papa’iloa Beach – secluded, with lots of shade. It’s the backyard of many residents: so jealous! We spotted a turtle tanning in the sun and photobombed his nap!
    • Laniakea Beach – aka turtle beach. You park across the street. There’s a lot of tourists at this beach, but when we went closer to sunset, there was hardly anyone (but no turtles, either!)
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    • Waimea Bay Beach Park – Pretty popular and crowded beach. When we went, it was a no swim day, so we lucked out. We laid out and took a nap / got some reading done.
  4. Waikiki Beach: very crowded beach but it’s worth spending an hour or so if you are around the area, just to be able to say you did it.  If you are staying in Waikiki, Ala Moana is a more secluded beach with plenty of parking.



  1. Liliha Bakery (Waikiki) – They’re open 24 hours! You line up to get seated. It’s a bar seating that’s first come, first serve. We got the loco moco dish: $9ish, and cocopuffs ($1.50).  So bomb.  The loco moco comes with a butter roll and a guava jam.
  2. Cinnamon’s Restaurant (Kailua) – We tried to go to Boots and Kimo Kitchen for their famous macadamia nut pancakes but they were packed! So we went to Cinnamon’s instead, with no line. Got the mahi-mahi eggs benedict and Portuguese sweet bread french toast with guava sauce.  Thumbs up!
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  3. Kono’s (North Shore) – This was a great breakfast place with a  yummy and good-sized Kahlua pork breakfast burrito. The biscuit sampler sliders were meh – biscuits were yummy but the sliders had bacon, spam, and Kailua pork, and just weren’t very special.
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Lunch / Dinner

  1. Marukame Udon (Waikiki) – If I had to choose only ONE place to go to, it would be here! Their noodles were freshly prepared (you can see a guy making it behind the window!).  These noodles were perfectly cooked, and the broth/sauce too – so yum! We had the curry udon and the cold ontama udon. For sides, we had fried chicken, croquette, and fish cake. Next time, we would get the shrimp tempura instead of fish cake tempura. Go during non-peak hours, otherwise, you’ll be waiting in line. When we tried to go the first time, it was around 7PM at night and the line was all the way out to the next street! I’ve heard that the line goes fast, but we’re just not one to wait for food haha. We came again at 3PM in the afternoon and there was no line at all!
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      Marukame Udon: $16 ish total.
  2. Shirokiya (Waikiki – Ala Moana Shopping Center)
    • This place is amazing, offering myriads of Japanese Bento boxes or you can also order from their food court.  They have cheap beer ($3-4) during “happy hour”, which is pretty much 5:30pm to 9pm. We had their curry udon, and wow wow wow — can they please come to Long Beach?!
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  3. Yama’s Fish Market – (Waikiki)
    • Mom and Pop store; they sell poke by weight. They let us sample the poke too. Seaweed salad was one of the best I’ve ever had. This place also has amazing Huapia desserts (MUST get the sweet potato huapia – tastes just like ube! We bought one, and then went back in to buy another after we destroyed the first! & our local source tells us their cookies are also delicious.)
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  4. Musubi Cafe Iyasume (Waikiki) – Cheap spam musubi with bacon, egg, and cheese. Check-in on yelp for a deal!  They also have yummy looking Japanese dishes but we didn’t get to try.
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      On the Catamaran double fisting
  5. Diamond Head Market & Grill (Waikiki) – Mixed plate contained salad, rice (brown or white), teriyaki chicken, bbq pork, and a hamburger patty with gravy. Kay and I shared one mixed plate, 1 blueberry cream cheese scone and we were pretty satisfied! The meat was tender and yummy.
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  1. Leonard’s Bakery (Waikiki) – must get the malasadas! They’re donuts but they’re so light and fluffy; I don’t know what kind of dough they use to make these! We really liked the original malasadas.
    • IMG_9308.JPG
      $1 each for malasadas and about $1.50 for the ones with fillings.
  2. Diamond Head Market & Grill (Waikiki) – Known for their blueberry cream cheese scones; make sure to come early as not to miss them. They’re $4 but well worth it because they’re huge!
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      Deeeelicious! $4.
  3. Liliha Bakery (Waikiki) – In addition to eating a meal here, we also visited the bakery side and got some goods: Chocolate Cocopuffs were delicious! (the lilikoi malasadas were okay – too much filling inside, and too sweet for our tastes)
  4. Island Vintage Coffee – There are multiple locations around the island. We had a delicious acai bowl here!  $9.95
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      Strawberries, bananas, and blueberries – oh my!
  5. Pau Hana Market (Waikiki) – This is where a bunch of food trucks hang out. They have a courtyard with benches where you can eat. We went to Hau Nani Shave Ice and got the lychee shaved ice with strawberry.
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  6. FrostCity (Waikiki) – We hung out with our local friend at night. Many shops close early on Oahu, but FrostCity was open when we needed it! Tastes like Taiwanese snow ice. We got the mango snow ice, and it really tasted like mango.
    • IMG_9227
      My college friend
  7. Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice (North Shore) – This place is famous for their shaved ice. We got the $6 Ichiban special with Lilikoi (passion fruit) flavoring. It comes with vanilla ice cream, red bean, and mochi so it’s a much better deal than just getting the shave ice.
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  8. Waikiki Farmer’s Market (Waikiki) – Opens around 4PM on Wednesday – we picked up some awesome apple bananas and very sweet pineapple. We asked the vendor to add some Li hing powder to the pineapple. Hawaii loves their Li hing powder! It also makes the pineapple even sweeter.
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  1. Mai Tai Bar – Sooo we are old fogeys and only went out one night during our stay in Oahu. BUT this place was so much fun! It’s located on the 4th floor of Ala Moana Shopping Center, open-air and spacious. They have a live musician, and $5 cocktails and $3 beer during happy hour (4-7pm then 8pm to 11pm). They also have great appetizers that range from $6-8. It was busy on a Friday, but luckily we snagged a table!
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  2. This is not to say we didn’t drink at all during this trip! We of course went to grocery stores to buy beer and snuck them onto the beach to enjoy 😉 Kay’s favorite one he found during our stay is called Shore Break!
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  3. Wailana Coffee House (Waikiki) – Didn’t get a chance to try this place, but locals recommended that you try the $4 Mai Tais here


Things to Skip

  1. Helena’s Hawaiian Food – This is what Hawaiian food is like.  The food here is good but not amazing.  It is worth a visit if you have extra time. Apparently, you’re supposed to try poi (it’s a starch Hawaiians eat instead of rice). We got Kahlua pork, Lomi salmon, laulau, and pipikaula short ribs with two scoops of rice.
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  2. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck ($13 for 12 pieces of garlic shrimp and rice).  The rice was so soggy! However, you can eat the shrimp with the shell on because it’s super crispy. The hot sauce on the side is SUPER hot, be warned!
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  3. Rainbow Drive-In – Meat was overcooked, bland, and dry.  Their slushy/ice cream floats were yummy though! Chili & rice is a staple here.
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      My college friend again!
  4. YogurStory – We would just come here to try their Ube pancakes ($12) but nothing else.  It was very overpriced, and portions were small. You’re really paying for the restaurant environment (modern and spacious).
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Well, that’s it for now folks! Comment below if you have questions or comments – we’d love to hear from you!